The moral dilemma began with a $100,000 check to the Girl Scouts of Western Washington -- enough to send 500 girls to summer camp, Scout leaders knew.
But there was a catch. The anonymous donor stipulated in a letter: "Please guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls. If you can’t, please return the money."
That caveat was a problem.
“We’re an organization dedicated to helping all girls become the best version of themselves and we don’t want any barriers in place for their success,” said Stefanie Ellis, public relations director of the Western Washington Girl Scouts Council, which counts more than 25,000 active members across 17 counties. “The stipulation attached to that would have been a barrier.”
The Scouts returned the money.
But $100,000 was hard to pass up. So on Monday, the council’s online marketing manager launched a crowd-funding campaign on IndieGoGo to try to recoup it with donations.
By Thursday evening, #ForEVERYGirl had raised more than $300,000 — triple the original goal.
A video posted to the IndieGogo page says: “Girl Scouts empowers EVERY girl regardless of her gender identity, socioeconomic status, race, sexual orientation, to make the world a better place. We won’t exclude ANY girl.” It has been viewed tens of thousands of times.
“Yesterday we thought it was a fluke, like, ‘This is the best day of our lives and there’s no way it can continue,’” said Kate Dabe, the council’s vice president of marketing and communications. “But it did, and it’s amazing.”
When Dabe went to sleep Monday night, the campaign had raised about $50,000. On her way to work Tuesday she watched the number tick slowly upward, hitting $55,000 on her bus ride. By the time she got to work, she said, they had raised $76,000.
“To see our community rally like that was amazing. It turned something that could have been negative into an outpouring of support,” she said. “I can’t even describe the feeling.”
While the Boy Scouts have struggled to reconcile an official policy excluding gay adult leaders with a commitment to diversity, their female counterparts have made more seamless strides.
Juliette Gordon Low, who had total hearing loss in one ear, founded the Girl Scouts in 1912 and pioneered efforts to welcome girls with physical disabilities. Five years later, the first African American Scouts joined.
And according to the Girl Scouts of America website, if a child is recognized and lives culturally as a girl, then the Girl Scouts will serve her.
The Western Washington Council declined to share details about the number of transgender girls participating in local troops, citing privacy concerns, but said the Scouts had always welcomed them. The council formally adopted that stance in 2011.
On IndieGoGo, many transgender adults thanked the organization and shared their experiences.
“My children grew up in Girl Scouts and are both lifetime members. One of my daughters is now my son. Girl Scouts helped tremendously in those years when he was a girl, struggling to understand who she was,” wrote Marcia McLaughlin, a campaign supporter.
The campaign has attracted donations from more than 6,000 supporters, including former Girl Scouts.
Katherine Clark, a congresswoman from Massachusetts, turned to Twitter to remind everyone of the Girl Scout law: “‘Be a sister to every Girl Scout.’ Important lesson for every future congresswoman. #ForEVERYGirl”
She attached a decades-old photo of her wearing a sandy-colored Girl Scout uniform with a sash and merit badges.